Six months ago, Aston Villa were a side without direction, slipping down the table into the relegation zone, and unable to hit the broad side of a barn if their lives depended on it.
It was completely, wholly, and utterly terrible.
But it is not six months ago. That was Paul Lambert’s Villa, and that is (thankfully) in the past.
Now is Tim Sherwood’s Villa. And that side debuts — properly — Saturday at AFC Bournemouth.
Don’t get yourself mixed up about it. Sure, Sherwood saved Villa from relegation with a nice run down the stretch, and guided the team to the FA Cup Final, but now, none of that really means anything. He managed Lambert’s side. Simple as that.
This weekend will, finally, mark the start of a new era for Villa. One where, under the leadership of the potential messiah nicknamed "Tactics Tim," the Claret and Blues will try and make their push back to where they belong, as a side consistently finishing in the top half of the Premier League table.
None of what happened last year matters now, and that’ll be reflected on the team sheet at Dean Court. There are eight new faces to the club, and Carles Gil might as well make nine with his reintroduction into Villa’s plans. Christian Benteke is gone, as are midfield pairing Fabian Delph and Tom Cleverley. In some sense, yeah, there’s plenty of reason for pessimism.
But a look at who else is gone from the XI may perhaps paint a slightly better picture of where Villa sit. No longer does the club need to rely on Kieran Richardson at left back or Charles N’Zogbia sitting behind the striker. Shay Given is off to sit on the bench at Stoke City, while Ron Vlaar has been jettisoned too, to the training table, and not on the club’s dime.
With Jores Okore hurt, at most, Villa will start just three players who were on the pitch at kick-off just over two months ago at Wembley; and hell, that number could easily be just one. Ashley Westwood should be in the XI, but Jack Grealish has injury concerns to shake off and Alan Hutton has talent ones that could see him on the bench.
Regardless of what Sherwood does, it’ll be a breath of fresh air for the club when they take the field Saturday.
And it’s all part of why Aston Villa will be, without much doubt, the most interesting team in the Premier League this season. Forget predictions or anything else with this side, there’s just so much variance that could feasibly occur here.
On one hand, this could go terribly wrong. He’s brought in, largely, unexperienced youth that for all we know, could fail to gel in the slightest bit. Villa could go down, and I don’t think most across the nation would really blink an eye at this point.
But is that really what you think would happen? It’s Tim Sherwood, man.
The ceiling for this club is incredibly high. If the parts come together correctly, and the club’s signings — who we actually spent money on for once! — play to their potential, there’s no reason to believe Villa won’t have challenged for one of the Europa League places this year.
Yeah, I said it.
And while it’s a little nerve-racking to be nearing the start of what’s such a pivotal year, it can’t be argued that Sherwood and Tom Fox haven’t taken the necessary steps toward returning Aston Villa to its former glory.
Sure, the club could’ve brought in six, "proven" players who would help secure safety this year, but what the hell is football for if you’re not going to try and win?
Aston Villa have endured one half-serious and four completely-serious relegation battles over the last five seasons, which, for a club of this stature is ridiculously embarrassing. I’m not saying Villa should be challenging for the league title, but it’s a side that was on a run of 13 top-half finishes in 16 years.
And with the moves Fox and Sherwood have made this summer, they’ve made that consistency a distinct possibility again.
Villa have bought a crop of players who should have high resale value, and plenty of room to grow together in the side.
If it all goes well, the claret-and-blue side of Birmingham may become a hot destination for continental talent next year, when even more money comes into the Premier League. What young player wouldn’t want to join a successful Sherwood revolution at Villa Park, especially if we’re already fending off interest from top clubs for any of the three Jordans.
If it all goes poorly, the claret-and-blue side of Birmingham will have wasted its only real opportunity to get back into the top level of the Premier League. With the outlay and investment in potential granted by the Benteke money, this is the club’s only chance to get back ahead of the curve, and back to where this great football club deserves.
We’re two days from the proper start of Tim Sherwood’s reign at Villa Park, one that may prove to be one of the most important in club history. And damnit, at the very least, it’s going to be entertaining.
But what are you going to believe? The pundits that wonder where the goals will come from, slate the summer signings before they’ve kicked a ball, or spew on and on about how Sherwood just isn’t cut out for this job?
Or are you going to dig down, take a deep breath, and trust in the man’s plan?
Immortality awaits you, Tim. Go get it.